Is it Safe to Eat Moldy Food?

Ever bite into a mouthwatering sandwich only to discover a spot of mold on the bread? Just thinking about it might be enough to make you feel queasy, but is your health at risk?

Most of the time, accidentally eating bit of moldy food doesn’t cause a problem beyond disgust. But nutritionist and fitness expert Angela Martindale advises, “You should always be aware of how your body behaves after you have already ingested a moldy product and know when to see a doctor.

“Moldy foods can contain serious toxins called mycotoxin or other poisonous bacteria, which could result in severe allergic reactions and respiratory issues,” Martindale told Care2. “Although there are different levels and degrees of toxic mold, our bodies will fight off any minute substance that threatens our body’s ecosystem, which can symptomize in the following ways; stomach and/or abdominal pain and bloating, nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea, severe cough, and skin rashes. Bottom line; Food poisoning is the worst!”

And you definitely don’t want to make a habit out of eating mold. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, a mycotoxin called aflatoxin is a known carcinogen. You’re most likely to find it in nuts, seeds, peanut butter, corn, and wheat.

Are natural, preservative-free foods likely to grow mold faster?

Not likely, according to registered dietitian Rene Ficek, lead nutrition expert at Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating.

“Preservatives are either antimicrobials, antioxidants or both. They either inhibit the activity of or kill the bacteria, molds, insects, and other microorganisms,” she explained. “Antimicrobials prevent the growth of molds, yeasts and bacteria and antioxidants keep foods from becoming rancid or developing black spots. They suppress the reaction when foods come in contact with oxygen, heat, and some metals. They also prevent the loss of some essential amino acids some vitamins.

“Most ‘preservative-free’ foods contain natural food components that reduce spoilage so it is unlikely that preservative-free foods would spoil any faster,” Ficek told Care2.

Which moldy foods should be immediately discarded…and which can be salvaged?

When it comes to mold, what you see isn’t exactly what you get. Those fuzzy green and blue splotches are spores. Your eyes can’t always detect the stalks, branches, and roots that lurk below the spores and reach deeper into your food. You also can’t spot the invisible bacteria that’s probably growing there, too. The toxins can spread well beyond the spots you see.

According to the USDA, when you spot mold on these foods, there’s no remedy, so pitch them immediately:

  • luncheon meats, bacon, hot dogs
  • leftover meat and poultry
  • cooked casseroles
  • cooked grain and pasta
  • soft cheeses (cottage cheese, cream cheese, Neufchatel, chevre, Bel Paese, etc.)
  • all types of crumbled, shredded, and sliced cheeses
  • yogurt, sour cream
  • soft vegetables and fruits (like cucumbers, tomatoes, peaches)
  • bread and baked goods
  • peanut butter, legumes, nuts
  • jams and jellies

If you don’t see mold, but the food smells musty or a little “off,” err on the side of caution and throw it out.

These foods can be salvaged, according to the USDA — if you aren’t completely turned off by a little mold:

  • Hard salami and dry-cured country ham: These are shelf-stable products and a little surface mold is normal. Just scrub the mold off the surface.
  • Firm fruits and vegetables (cabbage, bell peppers, carrots, etc.): It’s harder for mold to penetrate these dense foods. Cut off at least one inch all around the mold spot. Be careful not to touch the knife to the mold, because that will cross-contaminate the rest of the produce.
  • Hard cheese (mold is not part of the processing): Cut off at least one inch all around the mold spot without letting the knife touch the mold. Then use fresh wrapping.

When it comes to cheese made with mold (Roquefort, blue, Gorgonzola, Stilton, Brie, Camembert), this is what the USDA advises: Toss soft cheeses such as Brie and Camembert if they contain molds that are not a part of the manufacturing process. If surface mold is on hard cheeses such as Gorgonzola and Stilton, cut off mold at least one inch all around the moldy spot and use fresh wrapping.

Is there any way to hold off mold growth in the first place?

You can’t absolutely prevent mold, but there are some things you can do to make foods last longer. Mold grows best in warm, humid conditions. If you can, keep the humidity level in your home below 40 percent. Refrigerate perishables immediately. If you don’t use your leftovers within four days, throw them out. If you do spot mold on your food, it’s not a good idea to sniff it, as that can lead to respiratory problems.

It takes a bit longer, but mold can grow in the refrigerator, too. If you find moldy food, inspect nearby foods to see if it has spread. If there’s mold on the refrigerator itself, you’ll have to give it a thorough cleaning, inside and out. Don’t forget to clean or toss any sponges or kitchen towels that touched mold.

And here’s an important tip — when you discard moldy food, wrap it securely so young children and pets don’t get into it.

The bread storage conundrum — refrigerate it or leave it out?

It depends what matters most to you. Bread is a porous and welcoming environment for mold, so it has a short shelf life. It’s particularly susceptible to humid environments.

One way to slow mold growth is to store your bread in the refrigerator. But if you like fresh bread, that might not be worth it. According to The Consumerist, refrigeration makes bread go stale faster. It all boils down to personal preference, but keep a keen eye out for mold.

Related Reading
Food Safety During a Power Outage: What You Need to Know
Is the ’5-Second Rule’ True? (Video)
6 Things a Food-Poisoning Expert Won’t Eat

Photo: Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Thinkstock

111 comments

William C.
William C1 years ago

Thanks.

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Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne R1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Elizabeth Brawn
Elizabeth Brawn1 years ago

thanks

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Elaine W.
Past Member 1 years ago

Good information.

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Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill1 years ago

thanks

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Muff-Anne York-Haley
Muff-Anne Y1 years ago

Yuck!

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Melissa DogLover
Melissa DogLover1 years ago

ummm, I'm gonna go with a big N-O. No matter what an article tells me.

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Ahmed R.
Past Member 1 years ago

I just remove the moldy parts and eat the rest.... never caused me any problem. Will try to be more careful in future and throw moldy food away instead of getting sick.

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jessica r.
jessica r1 years ago

Good info; thanks.

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